Why You Should Visit Colorado During the 'Mud Season'

Hiker in Colorado

 Chris Swartwood/Getty Images

The name doesn't sound appealing. In fact, it sounds dirty and dreary. But don't let the name fool you. 

The mud season is Colorado's off-season—the window of time between when the ski resorts close and when the summer activities pick up again. The weather warms up and melts the snow before the wildflowers and grass have filled out Mother Nature's carpet. Hence, mud. 

But springtime (mid-April to late May) is actually a great time to visit Colorado. 

The effects of the mud season are more prominent in the ski towns, such as Vail, Steamboat Springs and Aspen. You won't feel the impact as much in the city of Denver and outlying metro cities. Spring is also the best time of year for other warm-weather destinations, like Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado, to gear up to reopen all attractions for the busy season. 

However, as the slopes close and the skiers pack away their poles for the season, ski resorts completely transform. Here are reasons for why you should visit Colorado during the mud season.

  • 01 of 10

    You Can Plan a Fun Road Bike Trip

    people biking in Colorado
    Getty Images/Julien McRoberts

    While the backcountry trails may be too messy to ride, April and May is prime time to plan a road biking trip in Colorado. Many cities in Colorado are totally bike-friendly. Fort Collins, Denver and Boulder all have received national attention for welcoming bikers. 

    For a scenic ride, take your bike out to River Road in Steamboat Springs, which runs alongside the Yampa River. Or ride up around Rabbit Ears Pass, a favorite destination, especially as the wildflowers begin to awaken. 

    If you still want to ride off pavement, rent a fat bike with extra-wide tires and tear through the mud for a messy but thrilling adventure. Or go on an off-roading Jeep tour and make the mud part of the fun. 

  • 02 of 10

    It's Cheaper This Time of Year

    The pool at the Four Seasons in May
    Aimee Heckel

    Like any off-season, the demand drops off and so do the prices. You can stay in some of the mountains' highest-end resorts for a fraction of the price, often more than half off. You won't have to fight for a good room either. You can get your pick of the place. 

    Not only is lodging severely discounted, but so are restaurants and shops. Find major sales, as ski shops get ready to close down for the summer or as regular shops try to move out the last of their cold-weather gear to make space for cycling and hiking get-ups.

    Although many restaurants may only feature abridged menus (and some close entirely during this period), what remains on the menu tends to run cheap. Expect happy hours to be extra happy. 

    For example, you can stay at a luxury hotel like the Four Seasons in Vail and enjoy high-end dining at its restaurant and bar. The views, heated outdoor pool, beautiful spa, high-quality fitness center, and all of the luxurious in-room amenities don't change. The only difference is you feel like you get the whole resort to yourself.  

  • 03 of 10

    You Get the Run of the Town

    I-70 Colorado

     David Herrera/CC BY 2.0/Creative Commons

    No long lines to see attractions. No crowds on the streets. No circling for hours looking for parking. No long waits to get into a popular restaurant or bar. 

    The ski towns are all yours to explore at your own pace. This is great for traveling families. Best of all, this is the only time of year that traffic on I-70 isn't a nightmare. (Tip: Even so, don't try to drive up the mountain from Denver during peak hours.) You'll save time not sitting in your car. Instead, use that time to watch the wildflowers bloom on an easy hike. 

  • 04 of 10

    You Can Find a Campsite

    Medano Creek with the sand dunes in the background
    Getty Images/Danita Delimont

    Backcountry camping may not be your best bet this time of year because temps can still be chilly, and the mud makes some paths hard to trek. But many of drive-up campsites are open year-round, and you'll have a better chance of actually scoring one in the spring. 

    Mid-week late May is the best time of year to visit Medano Creek and the Great Sand Dunes, a hugely popular tourist spot in Colorado. Temps hit the 60s and 70s, and the creek really begins to pick up. On nice days, especially later afternoon after the sun has warmed the water, you can float down the creek in an inner tube. And if you plan your trip before June, you won't have to fight the horrible weekend traffic, packed beach, and overfilled campgrounds.  

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  • 05 of 10

    You Can Attend a Spring Festival

    Stanley Hotel
      RiverNorthPhotography/Getty Images 

    Summer may be the high season for festivals, but you can find some fun springtime events, too. 

    The Estes Park Mountain Music Festival is typically mid-May, toward the end of Colorado's downtime. This fun event is packed with live bluegrass music and centers around the Estes Park Event Complex. 

    While in Estes, visit the dramatic and famous Stanley Hotel, which claims to be haunted. In the fall, especially around Halloween, it can be hard to score a room at this hotel. And summers are slammed with weddings. In the spring, you might be lucky enough to land a room at the Stanley, maybe even one of the so-called haunted ones. 

    Note: Don't try to drive up Estes's popular Trail Ridge Road. It doesn't open until Memorial Day.

  • 06 of 10

    You Can Enjoy Colorado's 'Banana Belt'

    A man on a bike in Salida, Colorado
    Getty Images/Shawn O'Connor

    Craving some more warmth than Colorado's springtime weather can provide? Head to the Salida area, which is known as Colorado's "banana belt" of the mountains. 

    While that term may be a bit generous, Salida does experience milder temps than the rest of Colorado due to its location and the interaction with the air moving over the mountains. The average temp in Salida doesn't usually get below 49 degrees in January, yet summers don't get too hot. Average July temperatures are a perfect 77 degrees. Annual rainfall isn't usually more than a foot. Here, it's mild, warm, and dry. The town claims more than 330 sunny days a year.  

  • 07 of 10

    It's Perfect For the Hot Springs Loop

    Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs

    Jason Dewey/Getty Images

    A fun fact about western Colorado: It's brimming with naturally warm or hot thermal waters that create hot springs. You can plan an entire vacation of them by following the Historic Hot Springs Loop, which brings you through Chaffee County, Ouray County, Pagosa Springs, Glenwood Springs, and Steamboat Springs. 

    The loop itself spans 720 miles, but if you divide it over a week, it's not much driving per day. The loop will bring you to at least 19 different hot springs, including a vapor cave underground to an adult-only, clothing-optional hot springs spot called Orvis Hot Springs.

  • 08 of 10

    There Aren't Restaurant Waits

    In the winter, it's next to impossible to get into some of the ski towns' most popular restaurants. After the slopes close down, some of the restaurants shut down, too, but not all of them. 

    For example, the Tavern on the Square at the Arrabelle in Vail is usually open during the mud season. Per its name, this restaurant is located right in the heart of the action in the Lionshead Square, making it super popular. But in the spring, you can usually walk straight in, have your pick of the tables and order from the (limited but highly discounted) menu. Highlights here include a brisket BLT and bison chili. Bonus: The Tavern even has a special gluten-free and vegan menu. 

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Hiking is Less Crowded

    The Mount Sanitas Trailhead in Boulder

    James Tiffin Jr./CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr

    In the summer, some of the most popular hikes can be a nightmare of bodies and a lack of parking. In the spring, while not all trails are open due to mud, ice and other conditions, many of them are. Check with the park rangers in your area to confirm which trails are safe.

    One place to try: Mount Sanitas in Boulder. During the summer, this beautiful hike can be too busy, but if you catch it on the right spring day, you're less likely to see tourists, though the locals hike year-round, and don't seem to notice the weather. 

  • 10 of 10

    Score Shopping Deals

    Ski Store

    Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

    The mud season is the best time of year to shop for winter gear because the ski town shops are unloading their inventory to make space for summer stuff. Find awesomely discounted winter jackets, skis, snowboards, hats, and memorabilia. If any of last season's warm-weather stuff still remains in the shop, it'll be even cheaper. Note: Not all mountain shops remain open during the off-season, so call in advance or check the website.